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St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will keep inpatient capacity, become a center of excellence

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Inpatient services for adults and children will remain at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

Thursday marked the christening of the Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence for the North Country at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, a designation that will see expanded mental health services come to the region.

Speaking at a videoconference with members of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force and state representatives, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the decision to reverse a plan by the state Office of Mental Health to close inpatient capacity at the center.

Thanking his team, including OMH officials, Mr. Cuomo said he was proud of their “open-mindedness” and willingness to change course on an impractical plan.

Mr. Cuomo said he reviewed the task force’s arguments in favor of keeping the center open and was moved to rethink the OMH plan. The task force provided him with a book of support letters, demographic information about the north country and information about the psychiatric center.

“I think you forgot the last chapter of the book,” Mr. Cuomo said, “because the last chapter of the book says the St. Lawrence Psych Center will remain open.”

The new plan will see 28 child and adolescent beds retained at the center, with increased clinic capacity in community hubs. The center will also have an expanded day treatment program for youth with more classrooms.

A “Mobile Integration Team” will be added to the center as well, which will be used to respond to psychiatric crises and provide consultation and a first line of treatment.

More tele-psychiatry will be used at the center as well, linking it with other rural locations.

The adult ward will shrink from 65 beds to 40, with $3 million in savings reinvested in the children’s center, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Although the adult inpatient facility will decrease its capacity, Mr. Cuomo said the state will add 50 community residential beds and expand the mobile crisis and support capacity for adults.

“The concept of community beds does make sense to us,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This to me is an intelligent plan going forward. We’ll see how it goes from there.”

Task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly thanked the governor.

“This is a great day in Ogdensburg,” Mr. Kelly said. “This is a very important part of our community, more so than most people understand.”

The SLPC Task Force was a volunteer organization that lobbied to preserve inpatient services.

Jamie Dafoe Weber, Gouverneur, mother of a child who has used the psychiatric center’s services several times, thanked the governor for taking the time to speak with her personally when she went to Albany on Dec. 10 as part of the task force delegation.

“You related to me as a parent first and foremost, and I appreciated that,” she said.

Mrs. Weber said having the psychiatric center so close to home was “paramount to [her son’s] health and well-being” and that the proximity allowed for frequent visits that played an important role in his ability to come home.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, were joined by Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson and St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, in thanking the governor for his decision to keep the center open and expand its children’s programing.

The news was also welcomed by Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue who applauded the preservation of services. Mr. Cuomo not only halted the plan to close services in Ogdensburg but also pulled the plug on similar plans in Binghamton and Elmira.

Mr. Kelly acknowledged the efforts of other task force members, including Mr. Nelson, Mr. Putney, St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly, Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton, county Legislators Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, and Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, county Sheriff Kevin M. Wells, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Theodore H. Klaudt, Mrs. Weber, John Burke, retired director of inpatient services at the Binghamton Psychiatric Center, North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas, Clarkson University Senior Vice President and Provost Chuck Thorpe and Government Relations Director Robert Wood, Jim Scordo, executive director of Credo in Watertown, and Greg Sharland, facility manager at Ag Energy.

Mr. Kelly also thanked the Watertown Daily Times and The Journal for writing editorials in opposition to the OMH plan.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” Mr. Kelly said. “I think we got everything we wanted. We know one thing for sure: it’s not closing down.”

Mr. Kelly said he expects to hear more about the timeline for the transition to expanded adult outpatient facilities in the spring as part of the state’s budget process.

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